University of Rochester

University Acquires Henry David Thoreau Collection

November 7, 1996

A rare, complete, and extremely valuable collection of the works of Henry David Thoreau has been given to the University of Rochester, and will be housed in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Rush Rhees Library.

The collection includes the first 16 and numerous other important editions of the 19th-century American author and naturalist's best known work, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854), as well as a virtually complete array of his other publications. Many of the approximately 1,000 items in the collection are irreplaceable, rare editions from small and private presses. Some individual books in the collection are now worth several thousand dollars apiece.

Raymond R. Borst of Auburn, NY, a graduate of the University of the Class of 1933, built the collection over some 50 years as a labor of love. Long a successful businessman in Auburn, Borst is a member of a rare species himself: He became an important non-academic scholar of Thoreau as he built the collection.

Borst has written four books on Thoreau, including Henry David Thoreau: A Descriptive Bibliography (1982) and The Thoreau Log: A Documentary Life of Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862 (1992). The former is now the standard Thoreau bibliography; the latter, a day-by-day account of Thoreau's life. In composing these works, Borst drew extensively upon his distinguished personal Thoreau collection.

A substantial monetary grant from the Viburnum Foundation of Scottsville, VA helped to make the acquisition possible. The Raymond R. Borst Collection of Henry David Thoreau now anchors the Department's already strong collection of 19th Century American literature.

An exhibition of highlights from the collection is now open to public view, free of charge, in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Hours are 9 to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The department is closed Fridays and weekends.